International Expressive Arts Therapy Association Latin America Regional Conference

In February, 2014 I was very fortunate to attend the International Expressive Arts Therapy  Association (IEATA) Regional Conference in Antigua, Guatemala. I sought the opportunity to experience Expressive Arts practices in a region from which many of my clients originate and to improve my ability to offer culturally relevant psychotherapy. The experience was transformative for me. Much was fit into the three day program. I will share my experiences in the next few blog installments.
I chose to attend the pre-conference workshop that was composed of visits to locations outside of Antigua that were relevant and important to Expressive Arts practices. We first went to visit ruins near the location of the conference. There, a shaman from a Mayan community introduced us to rituals for blessing seeds before the planting season and also a ritual for cleansing. He taught us about the symbolism of the colors present in the ritual and about ideas concerning relationships with other human beings, nature and Divinity. He offered a cleansing ritual to all persons in the group who were experiencing illness or stress. The smoke from lighted tobacco cigars was the element of purification. Following the cleansing, the cigars were placed on the fire where they were allowed to continue burning, consuming negative energies.
After the work with the shaman, we walked to the site of the adjacent ruins. Our guide explained to us the strategic significance of the placement of the structures as the indigenous people resisted the Spanish colonizers as well as architectural aspects that are related to metaphysics and ritual. For example, the narrow steps used to climb the structures were not designed to accommodate the small feet of the peoples of the region. Rather they assured that those who ascended would move sideways in an act of reverence to the gods. He introduced us to the Mayan calendar and names of the days and the associated energies.  At the site of the ball court, we learned about how the game was played with a heavy rubber ball and that the games lasted for days sometimes ending in the deaths of participants.  We learned that the course and movements of the game had metaphysical significance.
The experiences of the day remind me of the importance of ritual, and how the incorporation of ritual into Expressive Arts informed psychotherapy practices creates culturally relevant, meaningful therapeutic interventions.

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